Looking to makes some changes this year?
There are often two approaches needed when making changes. One – stopping the behaviour we wish to decrease or eliminate, and two – introducing desired behaviours. Often dealing with one action automatically calls upon us to do the other. For example, when we wish to stop/decrease drinking coffee, we will need to change to a new beverage. When we wish to not watch as much TV, we need to introduce desired options in lieu of this habit.
For the most part, we cannot simply stop or will-power away undesired behaviours, as this leaves a psychological and/or emotional void which often drives us back to the exact behaviour we wanted to avoid, sometimes with increased vigor.
Making a change requires a desire or motivation to change, a plan, and mindfulness. It also requires taking each day ‘one day at a time.’ This approach relieves the pressure of “How am I going to do this (lose weight, save money, etc.) for the long-term?” All that matters is doing the change today (and then the next).
‘The best thing about the future is that it just comes one day at a time.”Abraham Lincoln
When we feel the desire to act upon an old behaviour we get short-term rewards (feel good) while we would have rather opted for long-term outcomes (e.g., better nutrition, less debt). And, when we act upon this old behaviour it only strengthens the pattern. This is called the ‘addiction cycle.’ Even if not a clinical addiction, there may be some form of dependency.
How to break this cycle? The less one gives in to the urge/compulsion to do the habit, the less intense the urge will be. After all, our brains are plastic and new neural pathways can be created.
Some ways to handle our habits – this is where mindfulness enters.Bring awareness to the urge. Identify the urge to drink, go to the couch, or avoid putting on the walking shoes. It helps to do this by identifying at-risk times when this may occur (e.g., after work, just before heading to the kitchen for certain food). Thus, one is more apt to ‘catch’ or be mindful of the desire.
Pause. Stop in your tracks. Breathe. Observe the parts at play – the one that wants the coffee, the one that wants to go for a walk. Breathe again, with no judgement. Just do nothing but observe these parts.
What are these two parts saying? Most likely there is an unrealistic thought or belief behind the habit. E.g., “I need a drink (chips, trip to mall, etc.) after the day I’ve had!” Or, it may be a false belief about our self. E.g., “I messed up again!”
Dispute these irrational thoughts (they are the Ego having a difficult time with change and using minimizing, rationalizing, etc.) Change them into the truth. E.g., “Do I really need a drink just because I had a hard day?” [One could also question the definition of ‘hard day’ and what changes could be made to improve this situation or perception.] The new belief is: “No. A part of me feels stressed and I can do other things besides drink.”
Name the feelings (anger, frustration, boredom, etc.) each part is experiencing. Again, with no judgement, explore the feelings. What might you be frustrated about? There may be underlying fears which impend truly committing to something new.
When really stuck or resisting the change – ask, “What is this change really challenging me to do?” It’s more than simply drinking less coffee!
When implementing change, remember to have self-compassion and to approach change, one day at a time. On that note …
“I still find it almost impossible to relax for more than one day at a time.”Gene Kelly
For more ideas view Dr. Brewer’s Tedx talk on “A Simple Way to Break a Bad Habit.”